Back in January, we heard word from the Director and Product Manager of Chrome OS, Kan Liu, that the Chromebook team would be working with Valve to bring Steam to Chromebooks. This came as a surprise to pretty much everyone because even though Chrome OS could run the Linux version of Steam and even had access to the Chromebook’s graphics drivers at the time via a Chrome developer’s flag, it was far from capable of handling any graphically intensive games.
Then, we saw the introduction of the Steam Link Beta app on the Google Play Store. This provided many with the ability to play their Steam library of games from their PC on their Chromebook via a remote desktop type of feature, but it wasn’t a great solution for a few reasons. Players were limited to their home’s wifi range which made it pointless to use the app instead of simply booting up their Windows PC. Not to mention, many people have a Chromebook because they don’t own or choose not to own an expensive Windows device to begin with.
Liu says that the Steam they’re building for Chromebooks would be enabled via the Linux container in Chrome OS which would still require that device’s hardware specifications to support the game that’s being played, leading some to think that Chromebooks would eventually contain discrete Radeon graphics cards. Nothing was explicitly confirmed, leaving us to wait impatiently.
A few days ago, the understanding of how this new service could possibly be provided came to light. The Steamworks documentation for developers was updated to include a section on something called Steam Cloud Play (Beta). The beta will enable Steam users to play their Steam library in the cloud, one game at a time, like they can on their local PC. It’s currently looking like this will be done directly through Nvidia’s GeForce Now which has been ever so popular and even slightly infamous as of late. They’re looking to add more cloud streaming partners in time, though that may not be for a few years. But wait just a second. Why is this any different than the Steam Link beta for Google Play or the Linux version that came before it? Valve’s language in the documentation mentions something quite interesting in step 5
Find the “Cloud Play” section and select two boxes
“Enable your game to run streamed from the Cloud, hosted by Valve, and the following service providers:” and “NVIDIA GeForce NOW.”
‘…streamed from the cloud…hosted by Valve’? Could this be Steam’s way entering the cloud gaming arena? Will Valve eventually offer to host your Steam Library on their own servers? If so, this could mean that Chromebook users could potentially play all sorts of games on their devices without the need for dedicated graphics or loads of processing power. This is already possible with a handful of services, but Stadia and GeForce Now are the top dogs in this space given their reputation and marketing power.
GeForce Now can currently only be installed on ARM-based Chromebooks and they even scrapped their web-based player for some reason, so their partnership with Valve will definitely help to bolster their reputation where it’s lacking.
Can you imagine simply buying a game via Steam’s website on your Chromebook and booting it up immediately via their cloud platform to play? We’ve got to admit, that sounds pretty sweet. Historically, many notable services add support for Chrome OS late in the game, so it may be a long while before we get our wish. Despite this and whether or not this is actually what Valve and Google are collaborating on, it’s a future we’re undoubtedly headed towards and Steam’s massive selection of games would be a pretty enticing selling point for Chromebooks.